|League One Preview 2020/21|
Written by tractordownsouth on Sunday, 25th Jul 2021 19:40
Each summer, football pundits comment on the big names that find themselves in the third tier – clubs which wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship or even the Premier League.
This year is no different and the presence of these clubs gives this season’s League One campaign the potential to be more competitive than ever. Conversely, there are few clear candidates for relegation, which could lead to a surprise casualty from the division.
Big things will be expected of Sheffield Wednesday. While ownership issues continue to trouble the fans, the recent successes of Bolton and Charlton prove it is possible to win promotion from this level with a strong squad regardless of boardroom struggles.
In Darren Moore, Wednesday possess a manager who has a history of getting teams to perform at par, and with a team that will enjoy a talent advantage in most of their matches, that should be a recipe for success.
Ipswich are also among the favourites. Paul Cook has responded to his sluggish start as manager with an overhaul of the squad. In particular the signings of Lee Evans and Scott Fraser have also weakened Town’s potential promotion rivals and indicated that significant resources are being made available to Cook. Any fears of dropping off the pace while the new additions gel should be allayed by the club’s kind early run of fixtures.
Cook’s former club Wigan caught the eye by signing last season’s League One top goalscorer Charlie Wyke from Sunderland. The squad turnover has been extensive but clever with the arrivals of Tom Naylor and Jack Whatmough from Portsmouth another statement of intent.
Providing the new owners keep patience with Leam Richardson after such extensive backing, the Latics will challenge the top six despite almost falling to League Two in May.
Charlton have been less active in the market, but already have the nucleus of a strong team and with new signing Jayden Stockley already settled into the team having enjoyed a loan spell at the Valley last year, they will be a tough proposition under Nigel Adkins.
Bolton and MK Dons are less fancied but could also challenge. Bolton ended last season in magnificent form and recent League One history suggests that momentum can easily be carried forwards from the division below.
Their poor start last season suggests an ability to cope with adversity and their creative worries will be eased by the signing of Josh Sheehan from Newport.
The Dons have lost key players but the additions of Scott Twine and Max Watters are smart. Mo Eisa should also thrive as the main striker, after being overshadowed by other forwards at Peterborough. If Russell Martin can make the most of his Norwich connections to add some loan signings his team will improve on last year’s finish.
Last season’s play-off teams all look weaker this year. Sunderland are top of the betting markets as usual, but their transfer strategy is questionable. Instead of making signings to fix the holes in their attack by Charlie Wyke’s departure, the Black Cats have brought in Huddersfield midfielder Alex Pritchard on big wages.
Although the capture of Josh Key from Exeter makes sense, the £1 million fee for a full-back will surely hinder the club in future negotiations, which doesn’t bode well with many more gaps still to be filled before the season begins.
Lincoln’s season starts in sad circumstances with manager Michael Appleton undergoing cancer treatment. While hopefully he will be back in the dugout soon, if they are without Appleton, whose coaching ability is well-admired, for a long period it will be difficult to mould together a team capable of emulating last year’s promotion charge, especially without the goals of Brennan Johnson and Jorge Grant.
Oxford’s abysmal record against their promotion rivals last season made play-off defeat almost inevitable. The loss of Rob Atkinson and Josh Ruffels are yet to be remedied by new signings but Karl Robinson will ensure that they are in the mix even if another top-six finish may be a bridge too far.
Portsmouth’s last day capitulation means that their stay in League One continues. Key players have left due to financial cutbacks, which will make it difficult to achieve a fourth consecutive top-seven finish. However, the permanent appointment of Danny Cowley, who enjoyed success on a low budget with Lincoln, means that any drop down the table will not see them looking over their shoulders.
Rotherham have bounced between League One and the Championship since Paul Warne’s appointment in 2016. While there is no doubting his managerial talent, there are questions over whether the same man can galvanise the club after relegation for a third time. The departures of Matt Crooks and Matthew Olusunde leave the squad weaker than the promotion winning class of 2019/20.
Doncaster will be looking to recover from last season’s collapse after Darren Moore’s departure, but they are unlikely to trouble either end of the division.
Recruitment at Wycombe has been clever with Josh Scowen and Sullay Kaikai coming in, but another promotion push is unlikely. History shows that most teams who punch above their weight to reach the Championship rarely make a quick return and Wanderers’ incredible promotion in 2020 was achieved with a very low goal difference, meaning that a small drop in quality would see them drop to mid-table.
Additionally, if Wanderers do start well Gareth Ainsworth will be a prime candidate for jobs in the league above.
Burton’s capture of Deji Oshilaja suggests that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will look to his defence to grind out more of the narrow wins which saw his side escape relegation in the second half of last season. With a manager who has struggled elsewhere but seems suited to his current club, the Brewers should evade the drop more comfortably this time.
Plymouth’s defensive frailties left them with just one point from their final seven matches but James Wilson and Dan Scarr’s arrivals should ensure survival, if Luke Jephcott can rediscover his form from 2020.
Last season Gillingham relied heavily on the goals of the previously unprolific Vadaine Oliver and the now-departed Jordan Graham. As usual, Steve Evans has overseen lots of changes in the playing squad which means a slow start is likely. Despite this, Gills are capable of a lower mid-table season, even if another play off push is beyond them.
Cheltenham look well placed to stay up under Michael Duff. They displayed good levels of resilience by claiming the League Two title after losing in the 2019/20 play offs and without the loss of any key players, they should handle the step up.
Crewe impressed in their first season up but have been weakened by Harry Pickering’s transfer to Blackburn, while Owen Dale is still attracting interest from Championship clubs.
David Artell is targeting another top half-finish and even though a relegation scrap seems more likely, the Railwaymen have a history of adapting well to the loss of key players so should maintain their third-tier status for another year.
Accrington are also likely to regress after punching above their weight in 2020/21. Key defender Mark Hughes’s decision to leave for League Two Bristol Rovers highlighted Stanley’s inability to compete financially and they could struggle, although the signing of John O’Sullivan from Morecambe is a sensible one.
Shrewsbury did remarkably well to survive last season after manager Steve Cotterill’s illness. Matthew Pennington joining permanently is a positive, but the signing of Elliott Bennett, who didn’t make a single league appearance in 2020/21, is questionable, and Ryan Bowman has never been prolific in League Two. Despite Cotterill’s heroics, he could find this season much tougher.
Fleetwood have swapped the chaos of Joey Barton for the stability of Simon Grayson. Although Grayson’s promotion credentials are unmatched at this level, the loss of star player Wes Burns from a team that never seriously troubled the top 10 last time around means that the Cod Army could be in danger of exiting the division in a different direction.
Morecambe unsurprisingly begin the season as relegation favourites, with a small budget and the loss of both their manager Derek Adams and top scorer Carlos Mendes Gomes after their unlikely promotion.
After defying the odds in League Two for so long, they will pull off the occasional shock but are likely to return to the EFL’s basement division in May.
Cambridge also start without their top scorer from last year after Paul Mullin’s departure. With only two other players managing more than five league goals, the U's will likely run into trouble at the top end of the pitch – a lot will depend on the form of new signing Jack Lankester.
AFC Wimbledon are in a similar boat without Joe Pigott. And with a tough first month of fixtures, can inexperienced manager Mark Robinson lift the squad if the Dons are in the bottom four early on?
1 Sheffield Wednesday
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